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How to start your own organic vegetable patch, and why 

Bunny Guinness 
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is known to improve health and wellbeing, so get sowing  Credit:  Andrew Crowley

If you crave the pleasures of eating fresh, crunchy courgettes and serving up unusual treats such as red Brussels sprouts, then why not start your own vegetable plot.

There's extra incentive, too, as according to a study carried out at the University of California compared levels of phenolic compounds, powerful health promoting phytochemicals, in corn, strawberries and Marion berries (a berry similar to a raspberry) in crops grown organically and those grown using chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

Ultimately, it was discovered that the organically grown corn and berries contained over 50 per cent more of these phenolic compounds than the conventionally grown crops. 

So to help you start your own, we've gathered out best advice and tips to help novice to expert gardeners start their very own patch.  

No longer are vegetables banished to the bottom of the garden, plant them within easy access of the kitchen door in a layout that looks easy on the eye.  Credit: Marianne Majerus

Where is the best place to site the plot?

No longer are vegetables banished to the bottom of the garden. Ideally, plant them within easy access of the kitchen door in a layout that looks easy on the eye, even in mid-winter. Then as you stroll past with a glass of wine, you may pluck out the odd carrot or remove a few weeds.

A sunny position will give you better yields. To maximise sunshine, the beds should run north to south for summer crops and east to west for winter. If you have shady patches, crops such as Jerusalem artichokes, cucumbers, parsley, endive, peas, mizuna greens, spinach, sorrel gooseberries, rhubarb, raspberries and redcurrants can all be productive.

Don't rule out an existing patch that has poorly drained soil or no soil - raised beds are the answer. If you have an adjacent paddock, it could also be used for vegetable, fruit or orchard production.

How big and what shape should the patch be?

It is better to start small and expand as the gardening bug takes hold. According to John Seymour, the gardener, author and expert on self-sufficiency, a deep bed measuring 6mx1.5m is enough to keep an adult in vegetables. My beds are 90cm by 2.6m, enabling a shorty like me to stretch across them.

The maximum width practicable is 1.5m. Dig deep. A deep bed is four times more productive; after the initial digging there should be no further treading of the soil. You want deep, loose soil which results in bigger plants grown closer together. A rectangular shaped bed is the norm, but squares, diamonds, serpentines or circular patterns could work, too.

How should I prepare the soil?

Digging brings up fresh weed seeds and reduces populations of worms and beneficial micro-organisms. If the existing soil is lean and hungry, coat it in large quantities of organic matter such as well-rotted manure and spent mushroom compost or good quality topsoil. I would then dig in the bulky organic matter and leave fallow until the weeds had been eradicated.

If you are making the plot from old pasture or lawn and the topsoil is deep, use glyphosate to kill off the grass and then let worm power dig in the dead turf.

'As you stroll past with a glass of wine, you may pluck out the odd carrot or remove a few weeds' Credit: Alamy Photos

What about weeds?

Having formed the beds and cultivated the soil, leave the area fallow and let the weeds grow but not flower. If they are all annuals, you can kill them off with a flame gun, or by running a sharp Dutch hoe through the top soil.

Perennial weeds are best treated with glyphosate – not organic but a couple of initial treatments may be all that is required. Unfortunately, nettles, bind weed, couch, ground elder, Japanese knotweed and mares' tails are hard to kill without resorting to chemicals.

Should I include paths?

Grass paths are cheap but become muddy and are difficult to mow and edge. My favourite inexpensive surface is gravel, but it works only if you are not treading on your soil and ending up with the gravel chippings stuck to the mud on your boots. Slabs, bricks or another brushable surfaces can work well. Use a minimum path width of 38cm, up to 60cm if space permits.

What is the best way to edge raised beds?

My beds are 24cm high, made from single railway sleepers laid on their sides. French oak sleepers (railwaysleeper.com) are fabulous and chic. In a stunning Vancouver garden, I saw beds 45cm high made from three wide timber boards. They were a great height for sitting on and they looked superb.

A single 50x150mm plank, treated with preservative and fixed by stout pegs, is an economical solution (usually about £3 a metre). Bricks last longer but are more expensive. If you hate bending or have serious soil problems, a height of 60cm would be ideal.

For first time growers, stick to useful herbs and simple vegetables  Credit: Ron Evans 

What crops should the first-time grower attempt?

Try buying mini plants in plugs to reduce the time to harvest and avoid the need for sowing. I would also advise a beginner to concentrate on simple vegetables and useful herbs, such as globe artichokes, courgettes, parsley, lovage, mixed leaves, chillies and climbing French beans.